Here is the first crack at a projection for the 2014 NCAA Tournament. This is a projection of where I think teams will be seeded by the time mid-March comes around. This is not a current Top 25 ranking or a “what have they done so far” estimate of what the field would look like if the season ended today. The season does not end today.
The site RPI Forecast does a good job of projecting future RPI. If you have read me at all, you know I am not a fan of the RPI. We still have to account for it in forecasts since the NCAA committee certainly will. Still, it makes little sense to look at the current RPI alone, because so much will change regarding schedule strength and win percentage, with most teams having at least two-thirds of their relevant games remaining. Take Duke, currently at #36 in the RPI. The RPI Forecast projects them to go 24-7 (which seems reasonable) and the RPI is then expected to be around #11 as a result.
With that in mind, here are my projections for the at-larges and auto bids that will fall within at-large range.
#1 Seeds: Arizona, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Villanova
Arizona is self-explanatory, with several early wins. The Big Ten will only increase the strength of schedule of the top teams, and the conference is very capable of getting two teams. The last spot is very much up in doubt. The Big XII Champion and ACC Champion will certainly be in the running, but I have less certainty about who that will be. Wichita State could get it by being undefeated all the way through the regular season. I’ll go with Villanova in the last slot for now.
#2 Seeds: Kansas, Wichita State, Michigan State, Syracuse
How high can Wichita State get? I think a #1 seed is possible, though not guaranteed, if they go undefeated. One loss probably puts them in the #2 seed range. Kansas has four losses, yes, but they also have a very good RPI because of schedule strength, and should maintain a top 5 RPI through conference play. This is a talented team coming together, and I’m banking on Bill Self’s history of getting teams to peak in conference.
Syracuse, meanwhile, faces an uphill climb when it comes to the RPI. Their numbers will go down in conference, and it will take winning outright to have a chance at a top seed.
#3 Seeds: Oklahoma State, Duke, Kentucky, Iowa State
Duke and Kentucky are both talented, young, and have been inconsistent. I’ll let you bank on them falling farther than their current rankings. I personally think this is a safe, conservative estimate of where they end up, just as likely to hit or exceed as fall below.
#4 Seeds: Louisville, San Diego State, Massachusetts, Oregon
Everyone is down on Louisville right now. The Cardinals lost Behanan for the rest of the year, and have lost their two best games. The only win over a team that might be an at-large so far is Southern Miss. They should still win the All-American Conference, and get enough quality wins to rise back up. I don’t think they have enough opportunities to get much higher than a 3 seed, though.
San Diego State and Massachusetts, meanwhile, have healthy RPI’s and should be the favorites in their respective conferences. If they can follow through on that, 4 seeds are attainable.
#5 Seeds: Gonzaga, Florida, Colorado, Creighton
Creighton is not ranked, but has plenty of opportunities for good wins. Florida should be in the mix for the SEC. Gonzaga will be back in the tournament, and will not answer questions until they get there. I don’t expect them to get tested too often in the West Coast.
#6 Seeds: Cincinnati, Baylor, Iowa, UCLA
Baylor is currently ranked 7th in the country. Neutral/near home wins over Kentucky and Colorado have them ranked there. Going forward, the question is whether you think they finish ahead of Kansas, Oklahoma State, or Iowa State in the standings.
Iowa should get enough quality wins to fall in this range, and UCLA hopes they play USC every game so they can continue to score.
#7 Seeds: Pittsburgh, North Carolina, St. Louis, VCU
North Carolina is an enigma, but because they have shown they can beat top teams, they will get seeded higher than their RPI. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, continues to not schedule in a way that helps their seeding, as the bad non-conference schedule pulls down the RPI even if they perform well in the ACC.
#8 Seeds: Memphis, Georgetown, Missouri, Dayton
The SEC has not fared well, which is going to hurt the seeding of teams in the middle and upper half. Missouri only plays Florida and Kentucky once each, so that home game against the Wildcats will have a huge impact on seeding.
#9 Seeds: Michigan, New Mexico, Arkansas, Xavier
Michigan has excellent computer numbers, so the question will be whether they can survive the McGary injury and get enough wins in the numerous opportunities in the Big Ten.
#10 Seeds: Harvard, Tennessee, Florida State, Illinois
Harvard has a huge game this week at Connecticut. They can still get an at-large without it, but it would go a long way to putting them in really good position. Florida State and Illinois are going to have to get some quality wins to hold on to current positioning; the opportunities are there, but so is the risk.
#11 Seeds: Saint Mary’s, Connecticut, Virginia, George Washington
Connecticut has better wins than those that will be just ahead of them in the RPI; they will need them to survive if they add more bad losses.
#12 Seeds: Southern Miss*, Kansas State*, SMU*, Minnesota*, Toledo, North Dakota State
My last two slots go to two power conferences, where Minnesota and Kansas State just finish ahead of others in their conferences, and then the combination of USM and SMU. Yes, I have Larry Brown getting back in the NCAA tournament.
Others in consideration for at-larges: Oklahoma, Boise State, Arizona State, California, Clemson, LSU, Stanford, Texas, West Virginia, Indiana State, Notre Dame, Butler, Marquette, Louisiana Tech.